DSM: Brahms’s Clarinet Sonata in E-flat, Op. 120, No. 2, has a delicate and, in the woodwind-piano duet literature, unique ‘balance’ between the piano and the clarinet. What I mean is that the piano is not so much an ‘accompaniment’—in the way it is in some Concertante pieces that clearly have an accompaniment that’s subordinated to the solo instrument’s part—as it is an equal voice that has expressive ‘parity’ with the clarinet. This Sonata is much more in the dialogical mode of ‘chamber music’.
CMT: Clarinetist Jon Manasse and pianist Jon Nakamatsu perform this Brahms Clarinet Sonata No. 2 regularly. And, you know, the German for accompanist is ‘Begleiter’ or companion. It is not ‘servant’. It is not ‘note-schlepper’. It’s ‘companion’full-fledged ‘companion’, with more than a whiff of ‘duty’ in that. Think of Brahms—the Brahms of Hamburg, Detmold, Vienna: how did Begleitern/Gefährten accompanists comport themselves?
DSM: The pairing of Jon Manasse and Jon Nakamatsu is an especially felicitous onein terms of their matched temperaments, mutual sensitivities, and mutual sense of duty, one to the other. Ahhh, let’s see here . . . Jon Manasse’s appearances include New York City performances at Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society events (Avery Fisher Hall), Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Hunter College, Columbia University, Rockefeller University. In a busy schedule of concretizing, he also presented the world premieres of James Cohn’s Concerto for Clarinet & String Orchestra at the international ClarinetFest 1997 and, in 2005, of Steven Gerber’s Clarinet Concerto with the National Philharmonic. Manasse debuted Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with Gerard Schwarz and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in a Barbican Centre performance in London in 2002.
CMT: Jon Manasse also has chamber music performances with the Brooklyn Chamber Music Society, the Amadeus Trio at Southern Oregon University, the Ying Quartet at Harvard University, plus the Manhattan String Quartet, the Borromeo String Quartet, the Amadeus Trio, Germany’s Trio Parnassus, the Orion String Quartet, and the Rossetti Shanghai Quartet.
DSM: Jon trained at Juilliard, where he studied with David Weber. Manasse was a top prize winner in the Thirty-Sixth International Competition for Clarinet in Munich and the youngest winner of the International Clarinet Society Competition. For twelve years he’s been on the faculty of the Eastman School of Music. And this Fall, Manasse joins the faculty of Juilliard.
CMT: You know, Brahms initially wrote Op. 120 for viola and piano. The viola part was then transposed for the clarinet, and it’s famously known now as the Clarinet Sonata—even though it’s still important in the viola literature, too. The two Brahms Clarinet Sonatas are anchors in the standard clarinet repertoire that’s required for clarinetists in music graduate programs. Examination and performance of the Second Sonata show that the “zero-order” technical aspects—such as fingerings and tongue articulation and phrasing and tone production in each of the registers—are not what make Op. 120 so challenging. Instead, the Brahms Clarinet Sonatas are a critical part of the repertoire because they contain sections that expose “first-” and “second-order” weaknesses of the clarinetist—such as breath support, and control of dynamics, and interpretive vision, and gestural fluency. As a consequence—or conversely—these same sections have a powerful ability to reveal the expressive and technical virtuosity of the clarinetist as well. The Second Sonata can really separate the wheat from the chaff! Here are some questions for you, and for Jon Manasse:
- Do you move a lot when you’re performing?
- Does this motion affect your performance?
- Did your teachers encourage or discourage motions? What was their reasoning?
- Is there a part of your body that you move more than any other, to achieve the expressive musical effects you intend?
- What’s the proper role of gestural instruction in performance pedagogy?
DSM: Common gestures for clarinetists involve, say, vertical movement of the clarinet bell and of its barrel, and horizontal and sagittal movements of the barrel alone. And circular/elliptical movements of the bell and barrel. We should distinguish at least two categories of gestures. ‘Instrumental gestures’ are ones that play a direct role in the production of sound (e.g., moving the diaphragm to blow air into a wind instrument), while ‘ancillary gestures’ are not directly involved in the production of sound (e.g., raising the eyebrows; scowling; leaning the body forward or backward; raising the hands above the keyboard; elliptical movements of the clarinet bell; etc.).
CMT: Musicians tend to move expressively while they play. Watching a soloist, one sees a sequence of subtle gestures including body sways, eyebrow movements, knee bending and facial expressions, all of which occur in relation to the musical sound.
DSM: Davidson (1993) designed a research study design in which participants were divided/randomized into three groups: they saw a musician performing, or heard the performance without seeing it, or both saw and heard the music. Surprisingly, Davidson found that the movements of musicians actually conveyed expressive intentions more accurately than the sound did. Wanderley (2005) has greatly improved and extended ‘ancillary gesture’ studies with digital photography of soloist musicians playing and quantitative analysis of that imagery, correlating it with surveys of listeners’ perceptions of the emotional content of the performances. To remove bias and insure comparability, Wanderley used digital time-warping, so that the tempi of the different performances to be compared were normalized and kept ‘aligned’ with each other for the statistical correlation analyses . . . Wanderley is now on faculty at McGill.
CMT: Gestures actually extend our sense of phrasing during ligatures, fermatas, pauses between sections, and so on. Though the sound comes to an end at a major transition between musical phrases, the performers’ gestures and postures continue into the silence. As a result, audience members who can see the performers moving perceive the phrase extending beyond the end of the note and into the silence. Likewise, certain gestures precede or anticipate the beginning of the new section or phrase (just as the movement of vocal articulators will begin before a target sound is produced in speech) – a process known as ‘co-articulation’. In that connection, you may like to have a look at Levelt’s 1993 book to see a detailed account of it. The interrelationship between musicians’ movements, musical sound and the observing audience, where movements convey or reinforce the performers’ musical intentions to observers, is clearly very complex. And it often makes big contributions to our understanding the music we’re hearing. An immobile musician won’t communicate as well or as much as one whose gestures are appropriate and accurate.
DSM: And it’s part of why seeing live performances matters. With regard to the nuances of physical ‘ancillary’ gestures, even broadcast imagery or DVD or film can’t convey as much as experiencing live performance. They may have excellent mastering and acoustic properties; they may have excellent cinematography and editing and visual production values; but they’re not adequate substitutes for seeing it for yourself, up close . . . What else? I would say that different performers tend to reproduce the same movements throughout the piece. And even if there’s no structural correlation of movements throughout the piece, there may be some movement patterns that tend to be produced by a player in different circumstances. It’s much the same as the personal and ethnosocial gestural style that each of us exhibits in conversations that have varied content and emotions. I have a certain style and gestural vocabulary that ‘works’ for me, a set of habitual gestures that are culturally conditioned—learned quite early in life, many of them.
CMT: Do the expressive body movements of musicians play a similar role in relation to the musical sound? Of course! Music is analogous to speech in that the sound carries the core ‘content’. But non-verbal gestures also contribute to the emotional sense of an utterance, and they help speakers to time their exchange in a conversation. Same thing in music!
DSM: We can think of different categories of clarinetists’ expressive movements:
- Material/Physiological, i.e., the influence of respiration, fingering, the ergonomics of the instrument, etc. At each time when performers breathe there’s a tendency to bring down the instrument to a vertical position and soon afterwards start an upwards movement again. This can be partly an ‘instrumental’ gesture, but often it’s predominantly an ‘ancillary’ one—a cue for the listener.
- Structural, i.e., dependent on the characteristics of the piece being performed. Some performers tend to mark the rhythm with their instrument, as an aid to metrical precision. And, although there are various differences in these movements, there seem to be similarities—a cross-correlation that’s higher than we’d expect by statistical chance alone.
- Interpretive, i.e., related to the mental model of the piece that the performer has. The mental conception of the arc of the piece will usually be different for different performers, or may often differ for a given performer across the span of her/his career.
CMT: In the case of the same expert clarinet player performing one piece different times, we can reasonably imagine that there’ll be a strong correlation between the player’s movements at the same points in the score in the different performances. This is what Wanderley and other researchers have found. In fact, it suggests a strong relation between what’s being played and how it’s played. With the experimental evidence that’s been published, it can be asserted that ancillary gestures of clarinet players are not produced randomly or just as a visual effect, but that these gestures are an intrinsic part of the musical performance process itself.
DSM: In its first movement, we have in the Brahms Clarinet Sonatas a musical form that begins its development in the tonic. Jack Adrian published a paper several years ago that gave two conventional explanations for sonata forms of this unorthodox type. Adrian says the first explanation is an ‘apparent’ return of the tonic, with a return of the tonic chord at the beginning of the development but not a return of the tonic scale step. He calls the second explanation a ‘real’ return, and it contains a return of the tonic chord and the tonic scale step at the beginning of the development. Adrian says that the Brahms Clarinet Sonatas are examples of ‘real’ returns.
DSM: But Brahms doesn’t stop there! Adrian offers other possible explanations of this unorthodox sonata form movement. The orthodox framework of sonata form is in the background structure and in its interruption at the point of recapitulation.
CMT: In this Brahms sonata, then, we have an initial voice-leading of the fundamental line that’s incompleteand which ends before the end of the development. The motion is interrupted at the recapitulation by the return of the primary tone, and the Fundamental Structure is carried to its close. Adrian notes that, when the tonic chord as tonic scale step occurs at the beginning of the development, the development begins the motion to the dominant rather than continuing the second subject towards the interruption.
DSM: So the whole development section of Brahms’s Clarinet Sonata is then a deviant, mutant transition to the second subject area. It doesn’t equate the dominant of the second subject area with the dominant at the end of the development—after all, the first motion to the dominant is subsumed by the second . . .
CMT: Though there are these two interruptions, the first motion to the dominant occurs in the middleground, and the one at the end of the development is in the background. With this example of Brahms’s unorthodox sonata form we have a ‘challenge’ to the conventional concept of form. It also shows that concepts and definitions of form are vulnerable and malleable. Jon Manasse’s account is refreshing and brings these challenges to the fore. Not in an abstract, scholarly way—but exciting and juicy!
DSM: And, again Jon Nakamatsu gives us this frisson of sensory over-stimulation; melody, harmony, allusion and quotation shimmer tantalizingly, often just barely out of reach. Immense detail is packed into short time-frames, particularly in the Clarinet Sonatas, but never to the point of confusion – there’s always a clear line projected through and a thoroughgoing stylistic ‘companionship’ evidenced by the two Jons’ playing.
CMT: Here is Jon Manasse’s upcoming schedule:
- July 11: Strings in the Mountains Music Festival : Steamboat Springs : Brahms: Clarinet Sonata #2, with Jon Nakamatsu, pianist
- July 14: Strings in the Mountains Music Festival : Steamboat Springs : Weber: Grand Duo Concertant, with Jon Nakamatsu, pianist
- July 29: Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival : Chatham : Brahms: Clarinet Sonata #2, with Jon Nakamatsu, pianist; Weber: Grand Duo Concertant; Ravel/Hamelin: Pièce en forme de Habanera; Kovács: Hommage à Manuel de Falla
- August 3: Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival : Wellfleet : Mozart: Clarinet Quintet, with Borromeo String Quartet
- August 30: The Skaneateles Festival : Beethoven: Clarinet Trio, Op. 11
W hen you are accompanying someone, you are listening to them the way you listen to a Bach Chorale, where several parts are going on at the same time, all of which are gorgeous melodies, all being played simultaneously.”
- Jon Manasse, represented by Parker Artists
- Jon Nakamatsu website
- Adrian J. Ternary-Sonata Form. Journal of Music Theory 1990; 34:57-80.
- Davidson J. Visual perception of performance manner in the movements of solo musicians. Psychol of Music 1993; 21:103 – 13.
- Gesture Research in Music, IRCAM website.
- Clarinet Gestural Analysis website at McGill University.
- Evans E. How to Accompany at the Piano. Library Reprints, 2001.
- Gordon S. Mastering the Art of Performance. Oxford Univ, 2005.
- Heaton R. The Versatile Clarinet. TF-ROUTL, 2005.
- Hickin W. Pianoforte Accompaniment. Library Reprints, 2001.
- Hoeprich E. The Clarinet. Yale Univ, 2007.
- Juslin P, Sloboda J, eds. Music and Emotion: Theory and Research. Oxford Univ, 2001.
- Levelt W. Speaking: From Intention to Articulation. MIT, 1993.
- Lindo A. The Art of Accompanying. Library Reprints, 2001.
- Manasse J, et al. James Cohn: Sonatas and Chamber Music. (XLINT, 1995.)
- Manasse J, et al. Jon Manasse Plays Clarinet Music from 3 Centuries. (XLINT, 1995.)
- Wanderley M, et al. The Musical Significance of Clarinetists' Ancillary Gestures. Journal of New Music Research 2005;34:97-113.